One of New Zealand’s biggest retailers has agreed to change its customer loyalty programme, after complaints over its demands to know whether a customer was male or female.
Farmers department store required the mandatory declaration on its website submission form when signing up for an account.
Customer Emi Steedman stumbled across the requirement when buying a microwave and realised she couldn't check out, without declaring her gender.
"It just wouldn’t process without answering that field," Ms Steedman says .
"It just doesn’t seem like an important question – and it shouldn’t be there because it didn’t relate to the microwave I was buying."
The question is a genetic one, but not scientifically correct as it is now considered that gender is a spectrum that also includes intersex.
Rainbow Youth's Frances Arns says if the data is being collected for marketing purposes, Farmers would get more useful data by offering customers options about their interests, rather than their biological sex.
"A clothing company could ask what colours do you like? What types of clothes do you wear? All those things would provide a lot more insight about what the customer is likely to be interested in, than just gender."
Emi, a school teacher, says she has no issue identifying as a female herself. However, she raised the problem with Farmers because she feels there will be many others who won’t feel comfortable with the gender options on offer.
"I have known quite a few students who might be biologically one way but identify the other way and they would feel really uncomfortable with that question, and probably not know how to answer it."
The question was also of interest to the Privacy Commissioner John Edwards, who says any information gathered should come with an explanation to the customer about what it’s being used for.
"We need to be thinking about what those companies need in order to provide us with the service. And if we're not comfortable with the information we’re being asked to exchange as part of the transaction, we should be calling them out," he says.
Fair Go checked a wide range of other New Zealand companies, and found several others requiring mandatory gender declarations that only offered a male or female choice – including TVNZ's OnDemand app.
TVNZ says it's user testing now and will roll out a gender diverse option next month.
Westpac bank, which already has gender diverse paper forms in its branches, also says it'll change its online forms – as too did ASB.
Lotto's committed to a change by the end of the year, while Kiwibank says its "committed to doing the right thing" – although it did admit its mandatory gender selection was an "out-dated view."
Loyalty NZ (owner of Flybuys) says it’s reviewing its sign-up criteria, and Freeview says it'll take a look at the issue now that TVNZ has updated its form.
As for Farmers? Well, it’s already started user-testing for a change to its gender options.
The company says it'’ll still offer male or female options, but it is also looking to include a gender diverse option, and one for those who'd rather not say.
Emi's delighted the company acted so quickly to make the change – it means she can go back and buy her microwave.
"I really wanted that microwave," she said.
"Otherwise I might just [have been] stuck with half warm food for awhile!"